One of the most interesting things about teaching science to non-scientists is that anything goes. I use specific topics to get general principles across. Choice of topics comes from the students, from current affairs, and from what I find interesting or illustrative. I have been amazed by how much science can be taught by teaching non-science.

In 2011, we covered the following:

Do fish feel pain? Origin of Life, How to get a Nobel Prize, Nanotechnology – amazing or dangerous? Apollo Scientists, Discovery of Deep Time, Bullet-proof Skin, Science’s Most Amazing Discovery (you exist), What is Science?, Do Worms Make Kids Stupid?, What Do Correlations Mean? Ghosts, Wormy Experiments, The Monty Hall Problem, Smoking, Wrinkly Fingers, Does Prayer Heal? Can We Catch Obesity? Does Stress Cause Ulcers? How to Prove an Infectious Agents Causes Disease? Magic? How Physicians Kill People, Are Intensive Care Units Dangerous?, Are Cancer Trials Ethical?, What Do Randomized Control Trials Tell Us About the Efficiency of Science?, Fraud, Ideology and Lysenko, Climate Change, Mike Mann, Do Vaccines Work? HPV, Gardasil, Henrietta Lacks and her cells, Assessing and Communicating Vaccine Risk, Twitter Science, What Does Your Genome Say About You? Beer and Stomach Cancer, Yogurt and the Freshman 15, Sexy Head Tilts, Light and Hamster Depression, Hand Driers, What makes good science journalism? , Historical Battlefield Death Rates, HPV and Heart Risk, Are Males Toxic? Zombie Viruses, Vaccinate against anthrax? Religious Scientists, Who are nicer people, creationists or evolutionists? Is soup poisonous, Are animal gay? Is the earth being visited by aliens? What will we do when the oil runs out? Climate change, What is the Universe made of? Deniers and skeptics, Why be a scientist? Can you fake it till you make it? What is random? What makes people attractive? Why do we dream? What causes autism?

Students for Fall 2015:

This is the place to leave anonymous suggestions about science questions you want to discuss in class. Your classmates are more likely to see it if you post it to the Topics page on the class blog (but you can’t do that anonymously).

We need reasonably focused questions.  Broad topics, like ‘Evolution’ or ‘Stem Cells’ or ‘Genetically Modified Organisms’ won’t work.  Pose a question scientists have (or could) set about answering.  The questions might be anything from those that scientists consider solved (How old is the Earth?) right through to questions considered unanswered (How did life arise?).  Also fair game are course-relevant questions non-scientists argue about, even if scientists do not (Is there anything in astrology?).

My plan is to chose questions that allow us to explore the course objectives.   By way of examples, I currently have in mind questions like

  • Does HIV cause aids?Birds of Paradise 1.jpg
  • Are vaccines dangerous?
  • Is passive smoking dangerous?
  • How many deer to kill in deer season?
  • Can your genome tell us how long you have to live?
  • Why do peacocks (or birds of paradise) have such a ridiculous tails?
  • Is the Earth warming?


But I am open to suggestions……..

 Last update Aug 27, 2015

1 thought on “Topics

  1. Mary

    This is actually a great post from a brilliant facilitator. This is the best way to know what would be the best topic that would arouse the audience or students’ interests. This is a great resource. Impressive!


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